Introduction

Holocaust fictions are scandalous: that is, they invariably provoke controversy by inspiring repulsion and acclaim in equal measure. To judge by what many critics have to say, to write Holocaust fictions is tantamount to making a fiction of the Holocaust.

In this book I focus on scandals concerning Holocaust novels, but this phenomenon is clear, too, in the case of other genres. To take a flagrant example first, Rolf Hochhuth's 1964 play, The Deputy, sparked a fierce debate about its premise, the deliberate indifference of the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII to the fate of the Jews during the war. Peter Weiss's 1966 play, The Investigation, based on the Auschwitz War Crimes Trial held in Germany in 1963-65, was greeted with outrage as it contrived never to name the Jews who were ostensibly its subject. In 1979 the television series based on Gerald Green's novel Holocaust, which was shown in the United States and Europe, provoked intense debate about the nature and purpose of Holocaust representation-a debate which was repeated with regard to Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List. In 1987 Jim Allen's Perdition was the first play to be banned by the Royal Court Theatre in Britain, on the grounds that it was historically inaccurate. In the mid-1990s Binjamin Wilkomirski's ostensibly autobiographical Fragments had its authenticity called into question. 1 As these examples show, the only thing that each of these scandals has in common is the subject of the Holocaust. Apart from this shared feature, it is possible to isolate the particular theme which each debate focused on: polemic and historical accuracy in the case of Hochhuth and Allen; allegory in the case of Weiss; popular form in the case of Green and Spielberg; authenticity in the case of Wilkomirski. In other words, standard literary and cultural issues were at stake in each scandal.

Yet the common factor of the Holocaust as a subject is not easily dismissed. This is the central concern of this study: why and how fictional representations of the Holocaust are always greeted with such a mixture of acclaim and dismay. In the chapters that follow, I will trace the answers in the case of each novel-and those answers may not be the ones the dismayed critics think they are. I have limited myself to works written in English, with the consequence that all but one of the novels discussed here are by non-Jewish writers unconnected to the events

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Holocaust Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Formal Matters 11
  • Chapter 2 - Documentary Fiction 38
  • Chapter 3 - Autobiographical Fiction 67
  • Chapter 4 - Faction 90
  • Chapter 5 - Melodrama 117
  • Chapter 6 - Historical Polemic 141
  • Conclusion 161
  • Notes 168
  • Bibliography 229
  • Index 233
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